The line was dominant and dazzling, the Anders Lee-Mat Barzal-Jordan Eberle combination owning staggering peripherals. At five-on-five, the unit built a 32-11 advantage in attempts, a 22-5 edge in unblocked attempts, a 15-5 edge in shots, a 91.49 xGF and a 17-3 advantage in scoring chances, per Naturalstattrick.com.
Lee scored on the power play with an assist from Barzal, who, while with Derick Brassard and Leo Komarov for a late second-period spin, scored at even strength.
What more could you have asked of the Islanders’ top line in Thursday’s potential clincher against the Flyers?
“You don’t want to be out there for goals-against,” Lee said. “That means a lot.”
You don’t want to be out there for an overtime goal against, that’s for sure, but that’s where the Islanders’ top guns were when Ivan Provorov snapped one by a middling Semyon Varlamov at 15:03 of the second overtime in Thursday’s Game 6 that will make a Game 7 necessary on Saturday. And you don’t want to make a soft clear into the middle of the neutral zone preceding a bad change, as Lee did on Philadelphia’s opening goal.
It was Islanders-Flyers, a Game 6, and 5-4 in OT … and where have we heard that score before? Oh, right, 1980 in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals. That went one way. This went another. The echoes that were about to be raised in Toronto on Thursday — not necessarily from 1980, but from 1993, the last time the Islanders advanced to the conference finals — turned painfully into sounds of silence.
Or maybe anguish.
It is all riding on one game now following the Islanders’ second consecutive overtime defeat and third such loss in the series. It is all riding on Saturday. Yes, the Islanders have frittered away a 3-1 series lead. You know who else did? The 1994 Rangers against Vancouver. Game 7 turned out just fine for the Blueshirts. This is no time for panic, even if the Flyers have a horde of individuals who have survived dire playoff circumstances before.
Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk were on the 2010 Flyers who came back from 3-0 down against Boston. Nate Thompson was on the 2011 Lightning who came back from 3-1 down on Pittsburgh. Kevin Hayes was on the 2015 Rangers who overcame that deficit against Washington. Justin Braun’s 2019 Sharks came back from 3-1 down against Vegas. And Alain Vigneault was behind the Blueshirts’ bench for the comeback against the Capitals one year after his team came back from 3-1 down to the Penguins.
The hockey in this one was terrific, even if not tight and taut. But this was a night beyond hockey, too. For in a larger-than-life tableau, the Flyers’ 24-year-old winger Oskar Lindblom played his first game since being diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare bone cancer, in early December. Lindblom finished his chemo treatments approximately two months ago. His appearance on the ice represented a triumph of the heart with he himself representing a profile in courage.
The Islanders were relentless after falling behind 2-0 within the opening 11:52, pouring shot after shot on Carter Hart, the sophomore goaltender who gives the Flyers their best chance for sustained success since Ron Hextall was a rookie in 1986-87. They created with speed off the rush. They created off cycles. Shots were 28-13 through two periods, 42-17 through regulation, 51-23 through the first OT. But then 8-2 for the Flyers in the decisive frame.
This game of pace and more pace isn’t exactly the way the Islanders propose to play. They’d like things to be more stable. They’re known for keeping leads, but not in this one, when the Flyers tied it 4-4 at 9:53 of the third period off a New York blunder. But these are the playoffs. What’s more, these are the playoffs under the bubble. Regardless, the Islanders are making more than their share of mistakes. Some, while under pressure. Some, not particularly.
“A few of them are unforced errors,” coach Barry Trotz said. “You look at even the fourth goal, the tying goal, they’re coming out of the box, we have the puck below the goal line and we throw it out to the point when the whole bench is yelling that we’re even.”
Brassard had the puck. His pass was bobbled at the line by Devon Toews. That permitted Scott Laughton to score on a breakaway. The winner came after Scott Mayfield broke his stick at the line trying to take a shot.
The Islanders left it all out there. Except they better not have done that. Because it is all still in front of them. Game 7 on Saturday.